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Field Guides Tour Report
Texas Coast Migration Spectacle I 2013
Apr 13, 2013 to Apr 19, 2013
John Coons

The large live oaks at the Smith Oaks Preserve are a magnet for migrating passerines. (Photo by tour participant Daphne Watson)

We were fortunate to have conducive weather for migrant birding all week on our trip to the Texas Coast. Migrants moving through the woodlots at High Island were steady with new species being seen each day and no slow days for bird movement. We started in the Piney Woods and Big Thicket areas where we enjoyed close views of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Nuthatches, and Red-headed Woodpeckers at Jones State Forest before heading east and finding the first warblers of our trip. Prothonotary, Kentucky, Hooded, Yellow-throated, Pine, and Prairie warblers along with Northern Parula were all seen well on their breeding grounds, but the star had to be a Swainson's Warbler that is truly a local specialty. A pair of Barred Owls put on a great evening show while it was still light.

Leaving the tall forests, we headed south and were surprised to find an early flock of Dickcissels along a fence line before getting to High Island and the migrant traps. Each day we birded the woodlots and found something new. On our first full day we had a nice fallout that included several Cerulean and Blackburnian warblers with a stunning male Golden-winged Warbler. Blackpolls, Chestnut-sideds, scores of Tennessee's, Blue-wingeds, Black-throated Greens, and Nashvilles were some of the warblers that showed well for us. Good numbers of Scarlet and Summer tanagers and Orchard and Baltimore orioles were seen, as brightly-colored Painted and Indigo buntings and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks dropped in to bath at the water drip.

A very out of range Ruff, Buff-breasted and Upland sandpipers, along with Wilson's, Snowy, and Piping plovers were some of the highlight shorebirds among the many Dunlin, Sanderlings, yellowlegs, American Avocets, and dowitchers. Black-bellied and Fulvous whistling-ducks, King and Clapper rails, a couple of dancing Reddish Egrets, a nest building pair of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, and all those Roseate Spoonbills, Great and Snowy egrets at the nesting colony took our attention away from the smaller birds for a while, as did the beautiful Swallow-tailed Kite that Sue spotted over Smith Woods.

This trip was unusual in the number of late lingering winter birds that were still around. We found Pine Siskins, multiple Nuthatches, White-throated, White-crowned, and Lincoln's sparrows and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, all birds that are usually gone by this time of year.

Besides the birds, we encountered a few other species of interest. The two armadillos we had right along the trail at Smith Woods were not something one sees everyday and those Swamp Rabbits we saw each day at High Island are a species of limited range. A score of American Alligators at Anahuac added some local flavor. Speaking of local flavor, we experienced the hospitality of our new friends in eastern Texas and had a chance to sample the local cuisine. This trip was a lot of fun and I hope to see you on another trip soon.


**Note that this list is using the newest taxonomy from the Clements world list. You might find some birds seemingly misplaced in their order. A good example of this is Crested Caracara which is now found between the woodpeckers and flycatchers.

One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)
BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna autumnalis) – We saw these on a near daily basis along the Coast.
FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna bicolor) – There were a fair number in loose flocks at and around Anahuac.
WOOD DUCK (Aix sponsa)
MOTTLED DUCK (Anas fulvigula)
BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Anas discors)
Podicipedidae (Grebes)
PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)
NEOTROPIC CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) – This is the common cormorant, by far, along the Coast.
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus) – I believe our only ones seen were a few on the sandbar at Rollover Pass.
Anhingidae (Anhingas)
ANHINGA (Anhinga anhinga) – Our only individual was flying over the Trinity River on our first morning.
Pelecanidae (Pelicans)
AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)
GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba) – Some of those at the rookery at Smith Woods had small chicks while others had blue eggs in the nests.
SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula) – The breeding colors, orange feet and bright red lores, are amazing and quite ephemoral in these birds.
LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea) – Most of these were seen further inland than the other herons.
TRICOLORED HERON (Egretta tricolor) – We saw several, but there was only one or two birds at the rookery at Smith Woods this year,
REDDISH EGRET (Egretta rufescens) – Nice views of a couple of individuals on the Bolivar Peninsula.

A trio of Roseate Spoonbills enjoying a good belly laugh. (Photo by tour participant Daphne Watson)

CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis)
GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea) – It was a surprise to see two birds working on a nest at the pond at Boy Scout Woods.
Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)
WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus)
WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi)
ROSEATE SPOONBILL (Platalea ajaja) – The colors of the birds in full breeding condition at the rookery was amazing.
Cathartidae (New World Vultures)
BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
Pandionidae (Osprey)
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus) – We saw our only one at Lake Charlotte on our last morning. It was carrying a quite large fish.
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
SWALLOW-TAILED KITE (Elanoides forficatus) – Sue spotted this quite uncommon and much sought-after raptor as we were walking along the entrance road at Smith Woods. This is one of the most beautiful raptors in the world.
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus cyaneus) – There were a lot of these seen this year with about 15 at Anahuac NWR on one day.
BROAD-WINGED HAWK (Buteo platypterus) – We had one perched individual on our first day.
SWAINSON'S HAWK (Buteo swainsoni)
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)
CLAPPER RAIL (Rallus longirostris) – Great views of a few at Anahuac.
KING RAIL (Rallus elegans) – Also, seen well and in good comparison to the more plentiful Clapper Rails.
PURPLE GALLINULE (Porphyrio martinicus) – We got pretty good views of a couple or three at Anahuac.
COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)
AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola) – Most were in winter plumage but a few were showing some black bellies.
AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis dominica) – We got close to two birds on the recently mowed grass in the field on the Bolivar Peninsula.
SNOWY PLOVER (Charadrius nivosus) – We had good views of one at Rollover Pass.
WILSON'S PLOVER (Charadrius wilsonia)
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)
PIPING PLOVER (Charadrius melodus) – This small shorebird gave us a few good looks. It is in decline because it nests on the same sandy beaches that humans find the most attractive.
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus palliatus)
Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)
BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)
AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana) – There were good numbers of these seen this year.
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius) – Our only individual was on the shore of Lake Charlotte.
SOLITARY SANDPIPER (Tringa solitaria)
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
WILLET (Tringa semipalmata) – Quite common with several local breeders perched atop fence posts in some spots.
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
UPLAND SANDPIPER (Bartramia longicauda) – After much searching we found two on the sod farm that afforded us wonderful views on our last morning.
WHIMBREL (Numenius phaeopus) – There were good numbers of these in a few of the fields.
LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus) – We found four individuals that were still hanging around from the winter.

Looks like another great day for migrants! Guide John Coons presents the daily weather forecast. (Photo by tour participant Daphne Watson)

MARBLED GODWIT (Limosa fedoa)
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
RED KNOT (Calidris canutus) – Four individuals with one in pretty fair plumage were on the beach at Bolivar Flats. This is one of the the least common of the migrant shorebirds.
SANDERLING (Calidris alba) – Hundreds and hundreds were seen on the beach at Bolivar Flats.
WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
PECTORAL SANDPIPER (Calidris melanotos)
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
STILT SANDPIPER (Calidris himantopus)
BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER (Tryngites subruficollis) – After seeing some distant ones on our last morning we got permission to enter the farm where we had great looks at up to ten individuals on the turf farm. This is always one of the most wanted shorebirds on the Coast and it was great to see them so well.
RUFF (Philomachus pugnax) – This bird, thought to be a winter plumaged male, had been seen near Anahuac for a few days when we arrived. We were fortunate to locate it in the tall vegetation where we had pretty good views. This is a very rare bird anywhere in Texas.
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)
LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)
WILSON'S PHALAROPE (Phalaropus tricolor)
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)
RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)
HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)
LEAST TERN (Sternula antillarum) – Since Hurricane Ike in 2009 this species has done very well since beach sand, its preferred nesting habitat, got washed all over the Bolivar Peninsula creating new nesting areas.
CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)
BLACK TERN (Chlidonias niger) – There was one near full breeding plumaged individual on the sandbar at Rollover Pass.
COMMON TERN (Sterna hirundo)
FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri)
ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)
SANDWICH TERN (Thalasseus sandvicensis)
BLACK SKIMMER (Rynchops niger) – This is such a great bird. We even saw a few "skimming" over the bay.
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]
WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
INCA DOVE (Columbina inca) – A apir seemed to be on the ground in the parking area at Boy Scout Woods each time we pulled in.
Cuculidae (Cuckoos)
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus americanus) – We heard one calling in the Big Thicket area but could not get it to show itself. [*]
Tytonidae (Barn-Owls)
BARN OWL (Tyto alba) – We were disrupted by the high wind on this one. One flew out the back of an old building as we approached and it wouldn't come back as the cold wind blew form the north.
Strigidae (Owls)
BARRED OWL (Strix varia) – Wow! This was one of the trip highlights. Seeing and hearing the two Barred Owl along the Bayou while it was still just light was a great experience.
Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)
LESSER NIGHTHAWK (Chordeiles acutipennis) – We saw one perched on a limb at Smith Woods. A regular but uncommon species along the coast.
COMMON NIGHTHAWK (Chordeiles minor) – We enjoyed good views of several flying about and perched on limbs at Anahuac.
Apodidae (Swifts)
CHIMNEY SWIFT (Chaetura pelagica)
Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)
RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus colubris)
Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon) – We had a couple of these great birds perched on power lines along the roadsides.
Picidae (Woodpeckers)
RED-HEADED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) – One of the best looking woodpeckers, we enjoyed a few of these at Jones State Forest on our first morning.
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes carolinus)
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Picoides pubescens)
RED-COCKADED WOODPECKER (Picoides borealis) – We had great views of two individuals near a nest hole at Jones State Forest. One of the rarest of North American birds we saw them working the trunks of the large pines. We're still looking for that red, however.
PILEATED WOODPECKER (Dryocopus pileatus) – Another great woodpecker that we saw at Jones State Forest.
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
CRESTED CARACARA (Caracara cheriway) – Two birds were spotted on one of the dredge islands along the Intracoastal Waterway on the Bolivar Peninsula. They seemed to have a nest in the area but it was well down in a tree and out of sight. A member of the falcon family, I will never get used to these birds being placed here by the latest taxonomic findings.
Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)
EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus virens) – Only a couple were encountered.
GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus crinitus) – These were seen nearly daily, either on the breeding ground in the Big Thicket or as migrants at High Island.

The poor eyesight of armadillos can allow an observer to approach quite closely to a foraging animal, such as this one at Smith Oaks. (Photo by tour participant Daphne Watson)

EASTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus tyrannus)
SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER (Tyrannus forficatus) – We had several good views of pairs of these very handsome flycatchers.
Laniidae (Shrikes)
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)
Vireonidae (Vireos)
WHITE-EYED VIREO (Vireo griseus) – This was a common voice in the Big Thicket and we got a nice look at one along the Trinity River.
YELLOW-THROATED VIREO (Vireo flavifrons) – A few showed up as migrants along the coast.
RED-EYED VIREO (Vireo olivaceus)
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata)
AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
FISH CROW (Corvus ossifragus) – We had one walking about on the lawn near the sewage ponds at Beaumont.
Alaudidae (Larks)
HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris) – This species has a very limited range in the area we visit and we were fortunate to see a couple near the beach at Bolivar Flats.
Hirundinidae (Swallows)
PURPLE MARTIN (Progne subis) – There were always a few in the air above High Island.
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
Paridae (Chickadees and Tits)
CAROLINA CHICKADEE (Poecile carolinensis)
TUFTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus bicolor)
Sittidae (Nuthatches)
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis) – This had been a big eruption year for southern migration of this species during the winter and the few birds we heard and saw in the Piney Woods and at High Island were part of this movement. This may be a first for this trip.
BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH (Sitta pusilla) – We had nice close views of this southeastern specialty at Jones State Forest on our first morning in the field.
Troglodytidae (Wrens)
HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)
SEDGE WREN (Cistothorus platensis) [*]
MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris) – Nice looks at one on a fence wire at Anahuac NWR.
CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)
Regulidae (Kinglets)
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula) – Another lingering bird from the winter.
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)
EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis) – Such a wonderful bird, we saw several in the Piney Woods where they have become more common in recent years.
SWAINSON'S THRUSH (Catharus ustulatus) – A handful were around the woods at High Island and showed up at the water drip.

The coastal marshes were productive for Nelson's Sparrows; this was one of about 15 birds we had in view at one time! (Photo by tour participant Daphne Watson)

WOOD THRUSH (Hylocichla mustelina)
Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)
GRAY CATBIRD (Dumetella carolinensis)
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)
BROWN THRASHER (Toxostoma rufum)
Sturnidae (Starlings)
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
Bombycillidae (Waxwings)
CEDAR WAXWING (Bombycilla cedrorum)
Parulidae (New World Warblers)
OVENBIRD (Seiurus aurocapilla)
WORM-EATING WARBLER (Helmitheros vermivorum) – We saw one at Smith Woods but it gave us the slip before we could all get on it.
NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis) – One was often seen working the back of the small pond at Boy Scout Woods.
BLUE-WINGED WARBLER (Vermivora cyanoptera) – We had nice looks at a few individuals in the woods on Tuesday.
GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER (Vermivora chrysoptera) – Great looks at a male at Smith Woods on our first full day at High Island. This is always one of the most sought after warblers on the coast.
PROTHONOTARY WARBLER (Protonotaria citrea) – Our first ones were local breeders on territory in the Big Thicket area but we also saw a few as migrants at High Island. These bright little gems can really light up the understory.
SWAINSON'S WARBLER (Limnothlypis swainsonii) – We ended up with great looks at this quite uncommon and difficult to see specialty. We heard it singing in a dense thicket but managed to get it perched out for a spell.
TENNESSEE WARBLER (Oreothlypis peregrina) – This species was quite common on some days at the woods.
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Oreothlypis celata) – A rather late species to still be at High Island it was even more unusual to see one come to the water drip followed by a Nashville and a Yellow-rumped Warbler, two other species that are usually gone by early April.
NASHVILLE WARBLER (Oreothlypis ruficapilla)
KENTUCKY WARBLER (Geothlypis formosa) – We found one singing on its breeding ground then had good views of another at High Island.
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)
HOODED WARBLER (Setophaga citrina) – After good views of a singing bird in the Big Thicket we were fortunate to encounter this handsome warbler each day at High Island.
AMERICAN REDSTART (Setophaga ruticilla) – There were about three nicely plumaged males at Smith Woods on Tuesday.
CERULEAN WARBLER (Setophaga cerulea) – Wow! It was great to see at least five individuals on Tuesday afternoon at Smith Woods. These were part of a fallout that kept us busy for the afternoon. Another of the real beauties among the warblers.
NORTHERN PARULA (Setophaga americana) – Also, seen daily at High Island after we had wonderful views of our first along the Trinity River.
BAY-BREASTED WARBLER (Setophaga castanea) – A male was encountered by some folks along the Trinity River on our first day. This would be a migrant that overshot the coast and found the Big Thicket to its liking for a day or two.
BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER (Setophaga fusca) – Great views of several of these dazzlers at Smith Woods during the fallout.
YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)
CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER (Setophaga pensylvanica) – Another beauty, we caught up with one later in the week.
BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata) – We saw a couple or three of the first ones to arrive this spring. This is a species where the majority arrive later in the month.
PALM WARBLER (Setophaga palmarum) – Our only one was at Sabine Woods.
PINE WARBLER (Setophaga pinus) – Rarely seen along the Coast we had a good number of these in the Piney Woods of East Texas.
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (Setophaga coronata)
YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER (Setophaga dominica)
PRAIRIE WARBLER (Setophaga discolor) – One of my favorites we saw a nicely plumaged individual in a very short pine plantation in East Texas.
Emberizidae (Buntings and New World Sparrows)
SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)
NELSON'S SPARROW (Ammodramus nelsoni) – Great looks at one, then two, three, four...until we had about 15 in sight at once in the coastal marsh. That was pretty amazing.
SEASIDE SPARROW (Ammodramus maritimus) – Good views of a few at Anahuac and again near Texas Point as they perched up in the reeds and sang.
LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii) – One was hoping about in the trail while we were watching the two armadillos at our feet.
WHITE-THROATED SPARROW (Zonotrichia albicollis) – We occasionally see a few on the coast at this time of year but not in these numbers and at more than one site.
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia leucophrys) – This was another wintering species that was lingering longer than normal.
Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)
SUMMER TANAGER (Piranga rubra) – There were lots of these on some of the days, often perched right next to the following.
SCARLET TANAGER (Piranga olivacea) – Good numbers were seen each day after we reached the Coast.
NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)
ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK (Pheucticus ludovicianus)
BLUE GROSBEAK (Passerina caerulea)
INDIGO BUNTING (Passerina cyanea) – This was one of the more common visitors to the water drip at High Island.
PAINTED BUNTING (Passerina ciris) – Always a crowd favorite, and deservedly so, we had very good looks at brilliant males at the water drip at Boy Scout Woods.
DICKCISSEL (Spiza americana) – It was somewhat of a surprise to find a group along the roadside in the rice fields on our way to the Coast. George spotted these odd birds along a fence line. All were males. These are usually just arriving about this time and are not seen this far inland yet. During the week we encountered a few more here and there.
Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

John Coons rescues a young box turtle from the road. (Photo by tour participant Daphne Watson)

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna)
COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula)
BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus major) – Quite common in the coastal marshes.
GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)
ORCHARD ORIOLE (Icterus spurius) – These were downright abundant on some days.
BALTIMORE ORIOLE (Icterus galbula)
Fringillidae (Siskins, Crossbills, and Allies)
PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus) – We heard a few in the Piney Woods and then saw a couple of individuals feeding on some thistles at Boy Scout Woods on the day we arrived. Another wintering species that was late in leaving this year
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Spinus tristis) – On a couple of the days one or two were feeding on the thistle plants near the water drip at Boy Scout Woods.
Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

NINE-BANDED ARMADILLO (Dasypus novemcinctus) – We had a great experience with two young armadillos digging in the soft ground right next to us along the trail at Smith Woods.
SWAMP RABBIT (Sylvilagus aquaticus) – These were quite common in the woods at High Island.
EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis)
FOX SQUIRREL (Sciurus niger)
NORTHERN RACCOON (Procyon lotor)


Totals for the tour: 189 bird taxa and 5 mammal taxa